The Academical Potemkin Village?

Tin Man wrote a few weeks back about the planned extensions to Mr. Jefferson’s University. The impetus for Tin Man’s post was a generally good New York Times Magazine article that generally avoided the easy story angles, though there were flavors of architects, both sophisticated and moronic, vs. Virginians both reactionary and preservationist. I was particularly delighted to see the author’s reaction to both Hereford College, though I have to say that Darden is not nearly as grim as he painted it—certainly better than Sloan’s modernist gray architecture. Perhaps the author should have visited Darden during a barbecue. But the description of Hereford College is dead on:

What’s the alternative? Many of the university’s modernists point admiringly to Hereford College, a complex of undergraduate dorms designed in the 90’s by the New York architects Tod Williams and Billie Tsien. “There’s an engagement with the landscape and a compositional playfulness,” says Daniel Bluestone, a professor of architectural history at the university. But I found Hereford, which is home to some 500 students, as depressing as Darden: an off-kilter arrangement of towering brick slabs, their slitlike windows resembling gun ports in World War II pillboxes. Unlike the Lawn, which on that same morning was full of students sunbathing and tossing Frisbees, the quad at Hereford was devoid of any life.

The one point missing from the article, though, was the violence that has been done to the Grounds by other well meaning architects, for example Gilmer Hall and the so-called New Dorms. With that context in mind, it’s kind of understandable that we would be a little cautious.

But I continue to be nervous about the overall layout and how the neighborhood to the south will be affected. I think the Glee Club House is immediately to the south of the circular amphitheatre at the end of the terrace. But the lack of a map overlay of the existing neighborhood, even through the extended images on the Arts and Sciences web site, makes it hard to tell.